Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Kenya refugee report

Kenya's post-election violence has displaced more than 300,000 and forced more than 6,000 to flee the country as refugees.

There are numerous reports of Kikuyu refugees who have fled the horrors of machete-wielding and other armed mobs for the relative safety of Uganda. There are also reports of Kalenjin refugees in Uganda. Unfortunately, there appears to be an attempt to portray Kalenjin refugees and, more generally, Kalenjins in a negative light. Most reports on Kalenjin refugees have focused on a few malicious elements, two to be exact, who attempted to poison Kikuyu refugees who shared their camp. Although there are many interviews with normal Kikuyu people housed in refugee camps in Uganda, there are practically none about the normal Kalenjin people who are also being housed in those camps. It is against this negative backdrop that readers are left to fill in the blanks and, thereby, to stereotype all Kalenjins based on the actions of a few.

This kind of reporting is in line with previous attempts by the western media to paint certain ethnic groups in a negative light. Most Luos will recall that the burning of the Assemblies of God church in Eldoret was blamed on Luos until it was discovered that the perpetrators were, in fact, not Luo but Kalenjin. The western media, largely ignorant of Kenya's tribal diversity, has failed to adequately convey the complexity of the crisis in Kenya. It has, by and large, ignored Britain's complicity in this tragedy via that country's "divide and rule" tactics--a strategy that in practice favored the Kikuyus economically and politically. Western media has, for example, failed to report how the British sold the land that had previously belonged to the Kalenjin and the Maasai to Kikuyus. The issues of political assassinations and land rights that are particularly central to the grievances of members of the Luo, Kalenjin, and Maasai tribes have been all but ignored.

So too has the western media failed to adequately report the post-election violence suffered by members of these tribes. Despite pleas from Kenyans everywhere and despite reports featured prominently on this blog, the mainstream western media did nothing to uncover Museveni and the Ugandan military's involvement in the violence in Nyanza and Rift Valley Provinces. This is particularly troubling, given the recent discovery of Ugandan military uniforms in Kenya. Furthermore, the western media has, by and large, ignored reports of Mungiki attacks in these areas. The western media's failure to engage in fair and honest investigative journalism and the US government's deafness to the grievances of marginalised ethnic groups in Kenya has thus contributed to the demonisation of Luos and Kalenjins.

Currently, while Kalenjin refugees are mentioned in a mostly negative light, almost no mention has been made in the mainstream western media about the plight of Luo refugees. It is a no-brainer that Luo refugees have much fewer options in fleeing Kenya. Uganda is particularly dangerous for Luo refugees, given the influx of Kikuyu in that country, and Museveni's almost certain involvement in the violence in western Kenya. The Tanzanian government, always hostile to refugees, is reported to be even less welcoming of Kenyan refugees. After they were "arrested" by Tanzanian authorities, a group of Luos seeking asylum in Tanzania have had their travel documents confiscated by the Tanzanian government. These Luos were carrying one year travel permits from the Kenyan government and had been given three month permits to stay in Tanzania after telling officials at the border that they were seeking refugee status. Border officials gave the same three month permits to a Luo woman and a Kikuyu woman who were travelling together after fleeing the Eldoret church massacre. It is unclear why the Tanzanian government is currently withholding the travel documents of the group of Kenyan Luos in Dar es Salaam.

Due to the lack of discreetness on the part of the government, the location of these refugees is now known to the general public. Joseph Mungai, the Tanzanian Minister for Home Affairs, has ordered these asylum-seekers currently holed up in Dar es Salaam to return to Arusha. Since the whereabouts and the ethnicity of these people has been made public by the government and because the government is withholding their travel documents, it is obviously dangerous for these Kenyans to travel back to Arusha, a distance of 647 kilometres from Dar es Salaam. As the mainstream media has taught us, tribal animosities know no borders.

This incident begs a pregnant question to the Tanzanian government and other world governments: where are Luo refugees to go?

The good people at Jaluo Press ( are currently compiling a report and are inviting all readers and family members of Kenyan asylum-seekers and refugees from every ethnicity to submit their stories. How were you being treated by authorities in the country in which you are seeking or sought asylum? Please include your ethnicity as we are trying to ascertain whether certain ethnic groups are treated worse by certain governments than are other ethnic groups.

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